Laois man whose nursing home costs claim was settled by State rejects AG’s report

Retired businessman Joseph Conroy says State settled with him because he had ‘a strong case’ and ‘a legal right’ to a refund for his mother’s private nursing home fees

A Co Laois man, whose State claim for refunded private nursing home costs was settled, has rejected the Attorney General’s report on the matter, saying the law was “on his side”.

Retired businessman Joseph Conroy settled his legal action against the State seeking a refund of €120,000 in private nursing home costs paid for his mother Ellen who died in 2004.

Mr Conroy brought his claim more than a decade ago, arguing that his mother, a public patient, was legally entitled to State-funded nursing home care for almost nine years and had no option but to obtain long-term care privately because the State could not provide it.

In a report this week, Attorney General Rossa Fanning SC defended the State’s long-running litigation strategy to fight claims from medical card holders for private nursing home care saying that the State has “never accepted” a person’s right to recover these charges from the public purse.


While the State accepted liability for public nursing home fees charged before 2004, it rejected any liability for private nursing home care, even where people could not avail of public care beds.

A redress scheme was set up by the Government in 2006 for people to claim refunds for illegally charged public nursing home fees over a period of almost 30 years.

People who had to pay private nursing home care due to a shortage of public beds were not covered by the scheme and about 300 claims were subsequently brought against the State.

Internal Department of Health records dating back to 2017 - revealed by The Irish Times last week - show that the State’s legal team was advised to settle the case after Mr Conroy secured a discovery order in the legal proceedings.

This was part of the department’s stated strategy to avoid discovery and settle cases confidentially for fear of losing an action and an unfavourable judgment triggering more claims.

Mr Conroy believes they made a financial settlement with him for the private nursing home fees he paid because of the strong likelihood his legal claim would succeed if it went to a full trial.

“If I had no legal right, why did they settle with me? They settled with me because I had a very strong case,” he said.

He said he had to pay for private care for his mother because there were no public beds available.

“I didn’t have a choice and the law was on my side at that time that my mother was entitled to it. I can prove that. I would ask that they interpret the law properly rather than skirting around it.”

Mr Conroy’s solicitor David Nohilly of Co Westmeath firm Larkin Tynan Nohilly believes his client’s case was strengthened by an ex gratia payment of almost €11,000 to Mrs Conroy in 2002.

This, he said, was paid in compensation for her nursing home subvention being initially refused and then incorrectly assessed, strengthening Mr Conroy’s later legal claim.

Mr Nohilly said the issue around the discovery in Mr Conroy’s case and what might have to be produced on a discovery order was not addressed in Mr Fanning’s report and there was only a “fleeting reference” to the subvention issue in the report, limited to a single paragraph.

He said the State sought to claim that scarce State financial resources prevented funds being made available to Mrs Conroy when she was entitled to in-patient services without charge.

“The State well knew this for a long number of years, notwithstanding their failure to provide such services to her free of charge,” he said.

Mr Conroy, who fought his case for 15 years, said that he was in a fortunate situation at the time to have the financial resources to pay his mother’s long-term care fees.

“Think of the people who couldn’t afford it and had to sell their houses or who were on the breadline over it. That is who I feel sorry for,” he said.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent